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By Brandon Wolf
Former Houston mayor Annise Parker and first lady Kathy Hubbard recently committed themselves to important leadership roles that will advance the LGBT History Research Collection at the University of Houston (UH).
Parker and Hubbard will serve as capital campaign cochairs and cabinet members for the collection, which are not merely honorary titles. These are working roles, and the couple has committed to bringing in both financial and archival contributions.
The LGBT History Research Collection is one of 13 special collections housed at the university’s M.D. Anderson Library. The library works to secure official sponsors for each collection—people with credibility, visibility, and connections in the community. Filling these positions is vital to each collection’s maintenance and growth, and UH representatives say they’re pleased to have attracted two high-profile members of Houston’s LGBTQ community.
Parker and Hubbard are leading by example. Last month, they gave 17 boxes of archival material to the collection in addition to a sizable financial
donation. “I gave them my new kitchen,” Parker laughs. “I’ll just have to wait a couple more years for that.”
Rice University is Parker’s alma mater, but her mother graduated from UH after meeting her father there. Parker has taken a few one-off courses over the years at both the main and downtown UH campuses.
Hubbard notes that her mother was a professional librarian. “I know what libraries do and what they stand for in preserving ideas and events, so it’s quite an honor to be carrying on my mother’s commitment,” she says.
Parker’s political papers are already part of the Shuart Women’s Research Collection at UH. “They approached me when I was city controller and asked for them,” Parker says. UH already had the papers of Houston’s first female mayor, Kathy Whitmire, and Parker liked the idea of her own papers being in the same collection. She admits that Rice University was disappointed not to house the materials, but she feels they will be more accessible to students and researchers at a public university.
Hubbard says UH has been “groundbreaking” in many ways, and she often spoke about the university in her role as first lady. “UH is the future of Houston—it’s our hometown university,” Parker adds.
Parker also says they both wanted to give their archives to a college that had a history of being welcoming. UH had a gay student group before Rice established theirs, and she recalls attending LGBT conferences at UH as early as the 1970s. “We are both pack rats,” Parker says, flashing a smile at her wife. “We understand the importance of saving history. We are two people who have touched so many Houston LGBT organizations over the years—as members, officers, and advisors.”
Among the materials they recently donated are records from the early days of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, in the 1970s and ’80s. “Most people didn’t seem to understand how important the papers were,” Hubbard says. “Sometimes they would recycle documents, using the reverse side for Xeroxing something else.” The early Caucus had no office—only a post-office box—so Hubbard volunteered to be custodian of the organization’s papers.
This same scenario played out in other organizations, and both women took charge of archiving documents. They ended up with 17 boxes of papers that they recently reviewed before giving them to UH.
As a financial advisor, Hubbard often prepared IRS reports for nonprofit organizations. She carefully kept copies of all reports and supporting documents. When she advertised her accounting business in an event program, she always insisted that she be given a complete copy of the printed program—not just a clipping of her ad.
Among the archival donations are cassette tapes made in 1985. During a referendum on gay rights that year, the Caucus received a number of death threats on its answering machine. Before turning over the original tapes to the police, copies were made. “They are as frightening to listen to today as they were 32 years ago,” Parker says.
Propped against a chair in their living room is a large fiberboard poster made for an LGBTQ history event years ago. One item on the poster is the front page of the Houston Post with a picture of Mayor Whitmire thanking patrons in a gay bar for helping to re-elect her. “We are giving the whole board to UH,” Parker says. “We didn’t want to damage anything on it.
“We helped create this history,” Parker says. “Now we have a home for the items we’ve been stewards of for decades.”
Looking ahead, Hubbard hopes materials from every LGBTQ organization and event in Houston will find their way into the collection. “So many social and cultural clubs that were once active are gone now,” she says. Parker looks forward to items being available on the Internet via scanning and digitization.
“A lot of activists are older now, and are downsizing. We want to get their materials safely into UH,” Hubbard explains.
“We gave them so much material that we needed to give them money to process it,” Parker added, without a hint of regret that the sizable donation would delay their new kitchen plans.
Both women have been activists since the 1970s—Parker in Houston and Hubbard in the Northeast before moving to Houston in 1980. Parker remembers the first Texas gay conference and the first Houston Pride parade. Hubbard remembers driving cross-country to Los Angeles with a group of friends to attend the first national lesbian conference.
The couple plans to hold a kickoff event at their historic Montrose residence later this fall, to introduce the UH collection to the community and explain what is possible as the collection matures. They also plan to hold annual fundraisers for the collection.
Reflecting on their activist history, Parker says, “We thought we could make the world a better place, but never dreamed we would be where we are at today.”